Gators Drop SEC Opener

Despite making a season-high 13 3-pointers and getting career-highs of 28 and 22 points from starting guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker, respectively, the Florida Gators fell to Vanderbilt, 95-87, in the SEC opener for both squads in Nashville Saturday.

The loss, which ended a three-game winning streak, dropped the Gators to 11-4 overall and 0-1 in the SEC heading into a nationally-televised home contest Tuesday night against third-ranked and undefeated Kentucky. It was the sixth win a row for the Commodores, who improved to 12-3, 1-0.

The Gators, who were an impressive 29-of-56 (51.8 percent) from the field, including 13-of-27 (48 percent) from 3-point range, were hampered by fouls in the frontcourt. Starting center Vernon Macklin and backup Erik Murphy both fouled out, combining to play just 26 minutes and score a total of just six points.

As a result, UF was left with no real inside presence against 6-11 junior center A.J. Ogilvy from Australia and his backup, 6-11 Festus Ezili from Cameroon, who helped Vandy to a 40-22 scoring advantage in the paint and a 33-29 rebounding edge.

Ogilvy led the Commodores, who were picked to finish third in the SEC East in the preseason (UF was picked fifth), with 24 points and eight rebounds, while senior guard Jermaine Beal added 22 points.

"I thought we came out of our shooting slump a little bit," said UF head coach Billy Donovan in a postgame interview with WRUF Radio. "But I really thought the difference in the game was that our frontcourt was in foul trouble throughout the entire game. That allowed their inside players to be able to do a lot around the basket.

"They also had 20 points off our turnovers, so out of their 95 points, 60 were basically at the rim. I thought we did a good job of defending the 3-point line. They only shot 33 percent (7-of-21)."

Five of those seven successful Vandy 3s came in a row in the first half after Florida hit its first four shots of the game to take an early 9-2 lead. That barrage gave Vandy a 19-14 lead , but the Commodores would only make two more treys the rest of the way.

Minutes later, it was UF's turn from long range, as Walker drained three 3s to ignite a 15-5 UF run that turned Vandy's five-point lead into a 29-24 deficit. Two free throws by Chandler Parsons, who led UF with nine rebounds to go with eight points despite sitting out most of the first half with two early fouls, gave the Gators a seven-point lead – their largest of the game – but the Commodores battled back and trailed by just two, 44-42, at the half.

The end of the half was especially costly for the Gators, who had a 42-37 lead and the ball with two minutes remaining but, after hitting eight of their first 11 3-point attempts, missed their next three attempts and did not score again until a slam dunk by junior Alex Tyus with 11 seconds remaining. Compounding the problem was Murphy picking up two fouls in a 20-second span, sending him to the break with three personals.

Tyus, who had 12 points, scored the opening hoop of the second half, but Ogilvy scored six straight points after Macklin went to the bench with his third foul to give Vandy the lead at 48-46 in what would be the first of five lead changes in the first five minutes following the break. The last one came on a basket by Ezili that put Vandy up 56-55, and when Macklin picked up his fourth foul with 12:32 left to play, Vandy began to pull away.

Back-to-back hoops by Parsons and Boynton got UF to within one at 60-59, but freshman John Jenkins hit a big trey to ignite a 7-0 run that gave the Commodores a 67-59 lead at the midway mark of the second half.

The lead grew to 10, 76-66, when Macklin and Murphy both fouled out within a little more than six minutes left to play, but the Gators surprised the Commodores by responding with six straight points to trim the lead to 76-72.

Another clutch Vandy 3-pointer, this one by Lance Gouldbourne, extended the lead back to seven, and it grew to 10 again, 83-73, with only 3:20 left.

UF would get no closer than 93-87 on a Walker trey with 30 seconds left, but there was no magical ending this time. The Gators were forced to foul and the 'Dores made them pay, going a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line in the final 1:30 of the contest. Vandy was 26-of-33 from the foul line for the game, outscoring UF, which was 16-of-21, by 10 at the charity stripe.

Both teams set season-highs with their scoring totals. Each team had four players in double figures, with senior Dan Werner (11 points) joining Boynton, Walker and Tyus for UF, while Jeffrey Taylor (14) and Jenkins (13) joined Ogilvy and Beal for Vandy.

"Offensively, you look at our numbers – 51 percent from the field, 48 percent from three and 76 percent from the foul line – those numbers are good enough on the road to win," noted Donovan. " We scored enough, but we just gave up way too many."

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